Successful Website Migration Checklist

Are you in the process of migrating your content to a new website? If so, you’ll already know that this is one of the most taxing and demanding experiences a webmaster or business owner can undergo. Unfortunately, the process known as content migration is a necessary part of a website redesign. This is where content elements such as text, images, and videos, are migrated from your old website to the new domain.

While the website migration process can often be painful, it can also provide the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate your website content, to benchmark performance, and to identify potential areas of improvement. For this reason, a website migration checklist is imperative to carry out the operation successfully. The checklist will help you to plan your migration strategically, to maintain (as far as possible) the SEO strength of your domain, and to avoid some of the many risks attendant upon website migrations.

Analyse Your Existing Website Data

When migrating content to a new website many businesses simply copy over all of their existing content en masse to the new website. While this is a perfectly legitimate means of website migration, it does not capitalise on this unique opportunity to analyse and optimise the performance of your existing content.

Before migrating, analyse your Google Analytics account and look for the following pages:

  • Most visited pages on the website
  • Least visited pages on the website
  • Pages with the highest bounce rate

Your analytics data will provide you with deep insights into your most important pages, and the poorest performing webpages. Armed with this data you will be able to optimise the content migration process, and to streamline your new website. In identifying the power pages on your old site, you will then be able to focus your efforts on ensuring these pages retain their quality on the new site. On the other hand, the pages with high bounce rate or low session count provide an opportunity either to optimise the pages on the new website, to consider leaving them out altogether, or to move them to new URLs to be optimised for a different search intent.

Create a New Sitemap

The XML sitemap is the backbone of your website, the information which search engines such as Google refers to understand the navigational structure of your site. Creating a new sitemap will also help to guide you in terms of which content you want to migrate, and which content you want to leave behind based on the analysis of your Google Analytics data.

You should also keep your old sitemap in Google Search console, and then submit the new XML sitemap for your new site as well. This way, if you request Google to request the old sitemap, it will pick up on the redirects to the new site quickly, helping to accelerate the migration process considerably.

Test, Test, Test!

It goes without saying that a website migration is not something that should be rushed. A successful migration requires coordination and planning, as well as careful testing. Before you even consider carrying out the migration, everything should be tested first on a test server. This way, you will be able to catch any errors in advance of the final migration, and will be able to verify that crucial elements such as redirects are functioning correctly. Failure to carry out testing in advance can have serious repressions for your website and your business, particularly if your organic traffic drops off a cliff in the days following the migration!

Here are some of the elements to check before going live:

  • Sitelinks
  • Redirects
  • Load times
  • Canonical tags
  • Content rendering
  • Content presence
  • Landing pages
  • Duplicate content
  • Crawl errors
  • Broken external links
  • Broken internal links

Migrate in a Slow Period

Generally speaking, any form of website migration is going to have a short and long term impact on your traffic. For this reason, it is crucial that you take steps to minimise this impact as much as possible. An easy and obvious way to minimise the short term loss of traffic is to plan your website migration in a period of downtime. Peak and downtimes will vary by industry, but as a general rule of thumb, you will probably want to avoid planning a migration leading up to the Christmas period, or in its immediate aftermath. In terms of days of the week to migrate, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are generally preferable, as this allows you to iron out any issues and get up and running by the weekend. Of course, if you run a B2B business then the opposite is true, and you may want to take advantage of the relative quiet of the weekend to migrate to your new website.

Monitor your migration.

A successful website migration does not end with the migration itself. In the days and weeks following your migration it is crucial that you closely monitor activity on your website using Google Analytics. It is normal to see a downturn in traffic following the migration, but you will still want to measure performance on your new site against the benchmarks set on your old website. Each of your top-performing pre-migration pages should be analysed to see to what extent, if at all, traffic has declined. Major short term drop-offs in traffic will be easily noticeable, but you should also be watchful of smaller drop-offs over a longer period of time which may represent a genuine error that you should be able to rectify.

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